NEW PORT RICHEY — No one could blame county commissioners for feeling less than pumped about the proposed budget.
Layoffs? Likely. Constituents? Conflicted. Annual budget-time jousting with Sheriff Bob White? Under way.
But on Tuesday, commissioners and constitutional officers met for the first time and spoke with enthusiasm about what they described as positive changes in store: working together, ranking priorities and adjusting money accordingly.
Just not this year.
Officials gave their initial blessing to look into paying International City/County Management Association for another consulting project, this time to walk them through a new, more methodical way of coming up with their budgets, starting with the one for 2010-2011.
That means, in part, figuring out how certain operations contribute to long-term goals laid out in the recently adopted strategic plan. The consultants, who presented their plan on Tuesday, would use a software program to rank programs based on their priority and then help the county decide where to put its money.
"I think it's about darn time we've done this," Commissioner Michael Cox said.
Constitutional officers said they would put their operations in the mix, too, something that administrators said was essential.
"If we do this individually, it's not going to work," said County Administrator John Gallagher, who professed that one of his goals in life was not to spend long hours with White, haggling over money. (White, for his part, did not disagree.)
Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker said the new process was part of the effort to move away from "intuitive" decision making of the past.
"We have to transition to fact-based decisionmaking," she said.
The contract, if approved, would come out of the upcoming fiscal year budget. Baker said she did not yet have an estimate for how much it might cost.
That's all next year, of course. The hard work of the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, did not get much play Tuesday. Commissioners expect to take up much of that at a workshop scheduled for Aug. 18.
More than 20 4-H participants and parents showed up Tuesday in green for another time to show support for their program, which would be cut under the proposed budget. They did not speak.
Commissioners did not question White about his recent public comments that they consider merging his department with fire rescue. His comments had miffed some commissioners, who wondered why he had not come to them first.
No one asked White about the federal grant awarded to his department last week for 24 deputies, new hires who would come with a price tag for the county, too. But they thanked him and other constitutional officers for coming.
"Having all the constitutional officers here is a welcome change," said Commissioner Pat Mulieri.
White said he had enjoyed the presentation and was encouraged that the program offered more transparency in how budget decisions were made. He said it was essential that the county and constitutional officers work "hand in glove" from now on.
And he remarked that it was the rotten economy that had finally brought them all together.
"At least we're here now," he said.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.